Volunteers should be playing a greater role in responding to emergency situations, according to the British Red Cross.
In a new report funded by the European Commission, the charity states that volunteers should be involved in everything from the preparation to the response to emergencies. It also calls for the introduction of common guidelines for emergency relief across the EU and greater funding for NGOs to respond quickly and effectively to disasters.
Specially trained volunteers could provide a wider range of services including practical help, emotional assistance and medical care to help government, emergency and health services that become inevitably "overstretched
in such situations.
"What came out of the report is that voluntary organisations should be looking to set up a proper continuum of management for their volunteers,
said Moya Heath-Wood, head of emergency planning at the British Red Cross.
"To respond effectively volunteers need proper training and support in recognition of demands put on them in these conditions."
The report was the fruit of 18 months' research into the role of the voluntary action in civil protections across the EU states. Wood-Heath said that the document highlighted the need for greater co-ordination and recognition of agencies working in emergency relief and the importance of volunteers in providing a full support service to all people affected by a disaster.
"It is only in the past decade that UK charities have started to develop services for those affected by, but not necessarily involved in an emergency,
she said. "Many European countries have no facilities to help survivors and the bereaved, and this report will begin to show how a properly trained volunteer can be invaluable in such a situation."
"We should be working towards a time when there is a common standard of service across the European Union,
said Wood-Heath. "People should know that whether they are in England or another EU state, they will receive the same level of assistance."